By Marnie L. Pehrson
LDS Historical Fiction
Paperback ISBN: 0-9729750-6-3
Suggested Retail: $14.95
“Once again, Marnie Pehrson adeptly whisks her readers into the past, providing escape through this delightful romantic adventure!” – Marcia Lynn McClure, author, www.MarciaLynnMcClure.com
Nestled within the valley of the Appalachian mountains, Daisy, Tennessee, seemed like a sleepy little town until depression-era drifter, Jake Elliot, entered it and knocked on the front door of the yellow farm house and met Mikalah, the oldest of the Ford children. Little did he know how his life and his heart would be affected from that moment forward.
Although Daisy seems peaceful and inviting, for a member of the LDS faith it has its ruthless characters and dangerous moments which threaten Jake & Mikalah’s plans and their very lives. The misconceptions over Jake’s beliefs test the metal of everyone he encounters, bringing out the best in the most loveable characters and the worst in those with more treacherous motives.
Within the riveting excitement of moonshiners and the down-to-earth lifestyle of the South, this Latter-day Saint conversion story is a unique blend of Southern Church history and romance. It is an exploration of what happens when a young LDS man enters 1938 rural
Tennessee and starts spreading the restored gospel. This entertaining and inspiring novel will keep you turning pages while glued to the edge of your seat.
Beads of perspiration glistened on Jake Elliot’s bronze muscular biceps as the ax descended in a heavy blow, splitting the log in two and cracking loudly through the hot early autumn air. Mikalah Ford stood at the kitchen window, dunking a ceramic cup into the sudsy water as she stared mesmerized by the man her mother had hired to chop wood, help with the apple harvest and perform much-needed repairs.Mikalah’s father left nearly a year prior when he found work as a telegraph operator in Athens and sent most of his paycheck back to his wife to clothe their four children and pay the debts that he had accumulated through speculating before the stock market crash. Laurana Ford was a strong woman who never let her children see the tears that watered her pillow at night as she lay awake missing her husband Bill. Seventeen-year-old Mikalah was an incredible help to her mother. She cleaned, cooked and tutored the twelve-year-old twins, Hank and Hannah, with their homework every night and made sure that five-year-old Matilda got her bath and stayed out of trouble.
Mikalah dried her hands on a dish towel and brushed back a stray strand of strawberry blonde hair. Mikalah’s thick locks hung in naturally curly ringlets to her shoulders, and her baby blue eyes remained riveted on the workman as he sauntered toward the house, buttoning up his plaid shirt to cover his white undershirt. Unconsciously, she brushed at her skirt making sure she was presentable as he approached.
Jake stood outside the open kitchen door and tapped on the wooden frame with his knuckles.
“Come in, Mr. Elliot. I bet you’re thirsty. Would you like some lemonade?” she offered.
“Oh, yes, thank you, Miss Ford,” his voice was rich and deep. He ran his fingers through his dark brown hair and his emerald green eyes twinkled in appreciation. She handed him a tall cool glass of lemonade, and he gulped it down.
He extended the glass to her, “Thank you, Miss.”
“You’re welcome. Would you like another?”
“Ya know, I’d really appreciate that,” he smiled and thought to himself what a pretty girl she was. There was something about her big blue eyes and long eyelashes that drew him in.
Mikalah turned toward the counter and poured him another glass. His eyes followed her as she turned from him. She was tall, nearly five foot nine, with long shapely legs and a tiny waist that was further accentuated by the way she filled out her blouse. Jake caught himself and quickly looked down at his feet fumbling with his shirt, buttoning a couple more buttons.
“Here you go,” Mikalah extended the glass to him, and he took it gratefully. As his hand brushed against hers, Mikalah felt a warm shiver run up her spine, taking her by surprise.
“Thank you, Miss,” he nodded and sipped the lemonade slower this time.
“Would you like to sit down and rest a spell?” she offered pointing to the kitchen chair as she held a glass of lemonade for herself in her other hand.
“I probably shouldn’t. I’m pretty smelly,” he mumbled.
“Oh, have a seat. It’s hot out there, and you need to rest,” she offered.
Jake hesitated, and Mikalah motioned again toward the chair, “Go ahead, Mr. Elliot, rest yourself.”
Jake pulled out the chair, sat down and crossed his long leg over his knee. His dungarees were patched at the knees, and he wore large leather boots that laced up to his calves. “Is your mother around, Miss? I need to ask her if I’ve chopped enough wood or whether she’d like me to do some more.” Mikalah sat down at the table across from him.
“Mama’s out back in the garden. She’ll be in shortly, I suspect. She doesn’t like to work too much in the heat of the day.”
Mikalah found herself staring across the table at him. She was curious about this tall, strapping young man. His wavy brown hair was neatly trimmed, his square jaw and dimpled chin clean-shaven. She found him so incredibly different than the men who normally came around looking for work. Besides being the handsomest man she believed she’d ever seen he also had an air of honesty about him that seemed to radiate from his countenance. Maybe that’s why her mother had hired him when she never would hire the others. Laurana was a generous woman and would gladly share what she had with the men who stopped by, giving them a meal and sending them on their way, but she never hired them to stay. She didn’t want strange men boarding in her house. But when Jake had appeared at her doorstep this morning and asked if he could help her in exchange for room and board, she agreed.
Mikalah had been flabbergasted, raising her eyebrows in disbelief as her mother told the young man, “I do need some wood chopped. There’s some loose roof shingles, and the house needs painting before winter hits. Can you do those types of repairs?” Jake informed her that he could, and she immediately set him to work chopping wood to stock the wood pile for winter.
“So where are you from originally, Mr. Elliot? You don’t have a Southern accent, so you can’t be from ‘round here,” Mikalah quizzed him as he sat sipping his lemonade slowly, enjoying his second glass.
“I’m from Utah ,” he answered.
“ Utah ? How in the world did you manage to get all the way out here to Tennessee ?” she asked incredulously.
“My father owned a general store in St. George, and he let too many people buy on credit. When times got hard, he lost everything – the store, the house, the land – everything. So he moved the family to Oklahoma where his family’s from. He got a job with my uncle doing road work. There wasn’t enough work there for me too, so I started doing odd jobs for people and have gradually worked my way across the country, helping a lot of folks like your family – where the man of the house has left to find work and the women need help.” His eyes took on a far away look as if he were replaying a memory, “I’ve enjoyed traveling the country and meeting nice folks along the way.” Mikalah liked the way the dimple in his chin deepened when he smiled. In spite of her conscious decision not to let this handsome stranger get to her, she was completely unnerved by him.
“When was the last time you saw your family?” she asked.
“Let’s see here, I was twenty when I left, and I’m twenty-two now, so two years, yep, two years since I’ve been home – well, since I saw my parents anyway. Oklahoma doesn’t really feel like home to me. It’s been about three years since I was in St. George.”
“Do you plan to go back?”
“I miss my family, but I really like it here in the South. People are friendly, and there’s so much color. It’s so beautiful here that I just might stay,” he mused aloud.
Laurana Ford appeared at the kitchen door, brushing her feet on a mat outside the door with her three blonde-headed children behind her. She entered, carrying a basket full of beans. Her children followed her carrying bowls of squash and okra.
Jake’s back was to her as she entered, and he turned around and stood facing her, “Afternoon, Mrs. Ford. Your daughter was kind enough to offer me some delicious lemonade.” He raised his glass and nodded at Mikalah with a smile, “I’ve chopped the wood and piled it outside in the woodshed. Would you like me to chop down those two dead trees that are standing by the entrance to your property? They might make some good firewood.”
“Yes, those two trees are an eye sore. Please do that,” she nodded her head in agreement.
Mikalah peeked in the oven to check on her casserole. She grabbed a pot holder and pulled the pan from the oven and placed it on top of the stove, “Everyone ready for lunch?” she asked.
“Boy, that sure smells delicious!” Jake marveled, “I don’t believe I’ve smelled anything that good since I was back home.”
Hank, Hannah and Matilda poured into the room setting their bowls of produce on the kitchen counter and gathering around Mikalah, “I’m starved!” Hank rubbed his hands together anxiously awaiting his plate of food.
“Settle down, children. I’ll get you some,” Mikalah scolded. She counted six plates, pulled them from the cabinet and began dishing out casserole and garnishing the plates with sliced garden fresh tomatoes and cucumbers.
“ Wash up,” Laurana directed.
The children and their mother gathered around the sink as she poured water to wash their hands. Mikalah handed each of the children a plate first to get them out from under her feet. They grabbed forks, clanging them onto their plates and plopped down at the kitchen table while Jake washed his hands and forearms. Mikalah served Jake a large portion and then served her mother and herself. As everyone gathered around the table, Hank started shoveling his lunch into his mouth.
Jake cleared his throat and ventured, “Mrs. Ford, would you mind if I offered a blessing on the food?”
Laurana Ford patted her hand on the table, motioning for Hank to put down the fork of food he was about to shovel into his mouth, “That would be nice, Mr. Elliot,” Laurana answered, “We haven’t had a man in the house to offer grace in so long, that I’m afraid we’ve gotten out of the habit. But if you’d like to, go right ahead.”
Jake began to pray, offering a blessing not only on the food but also on the Ford family, including Mr. Ford and asked for special protection for Mrs. Ford and each of the children by name. After closing the prayer, Laurana’s eyebrows raised as she looked at Mikalah and then turned to smile at him, “Thank you Mr. Elliot, that was – that was lovely.”
“Can Hannah and I go swimmin’ at the creek, Mama?” Hank tapped excitedly on the table as he looked hopefully toward his mother, his blue eyes twinkling with anticipation. His twin sister Hannah matched his anxious expression and shared his same wavy blonde hair, fair countenance and sparkling blue eyes.
“That’s fine. Just a few hours though,” Laurana agreed.
“Can I go too? Can I go?” begged Matilda, bobbing her little blonde head.
“Mikalah, why don’t you go with them? You’ve been cooped up in here all day, and you can keep an eye on Matty.”
Mikalah looked up from her lunch toward her mother and grinned at her baby sister, “That sounds fun, let’s go.”
After lunch, Jake smiled as the children scampered from the table gathering their swim clothes and towels. He wished he could tag along. A swim on this hot afternoon would be refreshing, but there was too much work to be done.
Soon, Mikalah and the children came down the stairs carrying their towels and headed toward the door.
“We’ll be back in a few hours, Mama,” Mikalah waved at her mother.
“Race you to the end of the road,” Hank called out. “The last one there’s a rotten egg.” Everyone took off running as fast as they could – including Mikalah. She lifted her skirt slightly and ran toward the end of the road. Mikalah was a fast runner. She had played basketball at Daisy High School and often ran in races at the county fair. She soon passed up Hank and Hannah as little Matty trailed behind. When she reached the end of the road, she leapt around to face them.
“Aha, Matty’s the rotten egg!” Hank teased.
“Am not!” Matilda’s bottom lip puckered.
“Are too! You’re slower than a turtle stuck in molasses!” Hank jeered.
“Micky, make Hank stop callin’ me names!” Matilda whined.
“All right, ‘nough o’ that Hank, let’s try to get along today. It’s too pretty to fuss.” Mikalah scolded.
Hank rolled his eyes, “She’s such a baby!”
Mikalah picked little Matty up like a sack of potatoes and plopped her onto her hip as she placed her other arm around Hank’s shoulder, “Come on Matty, give me a smile,” Mikalah kissed her little sister’s rosy cheek. Matty smiled back at her big sister and returned her kiss.
Mikalah set her down, and the four of them walked along Highway 27 toward Chickamauga Creek. One rarely saw a car drive up Highway 27 in the afternoon and this day was no different. The highway sliced through the open fields of farmland, and the occasional farmhouse dotted the landscape. Mikalah smiled at the sea of long stemmed daisies and vibrant orange black-eyed-Susan’s that swayed in choreographed rhythm to the melody of the autumn breeze. Enjoying their last days of life, they stretched their colorful heads skyward, basking in the vibrant sunlight. As the children turned the corner and descended the embankment to the creek, the breathtaking beauty of the stream appeared before them. Crystal clear water leading back to the green mountains babbled over creek rocks rounded smooth from years of wear. Several little cabins nestled amongst the woods on either side of the creek.
Matty pointed down into the water, “Look Micky, somebody’s weft their meowk and buttow down in the cweek.”
“That’s Mrs. Morton’s things, Matty. She lives over yonder, and she keeps her milk and butter down in there to keep them cool.” Mikalah looked toward the Morton’s little house and saw five-year-old Jack running toward them.
“Why doesn’t she just buy ice for her icebox?” Matty asked quizzically.
“Ice can get expensive. If we lived this close to the creek, Mama would be havin’ us put ours down in there too.” Mikalah explained.
As Jack trotted toward them, he waved, “Hi Matty! You goin’ swimmin’?”
“Yep, you wanna come?”
“Sure!” he dropped in stride with the Ford children, and they ventured further down the creek where the water was a bit deeper. Hank, Hannah, Matty and Jack hopped from rock to rock as Mikalah drank in the beauty of the autumn colors that exploded from the trees on the unseasonably warm fall afternoon.
The children tossed their towels that were made from old feed sacks down on the rocks and skipped into the creek, splashing and squealing with delight. Mikalah sat down on a large boulder, removed her shoes and socks and let her feet dangle in the cool water.
Matty gathered brightly colored stones from the bottom of the creek bed, collecting them in her pocket. She carried them to the large rock slab where Mikalah sat and laid them out in the sun to dry, and ran back to the other children to play.
“My daddy’s buildin’ a big new house up the road,” Jack stated proudly as he balanced himself on a small creek rock in front of Mikalah.
“He is?” Mikalah asked, “When will it be done?”
“Daddy says in a few weeks,” he answered.
“Are you excited to move?” she asked the blue-eyed child.
“It’s big an’ fancy, even got ‘tricity, but I’m gonna miss bein’ on the creek – ‘specially gonna miss my stump,” he seemed a bit melancholy all of a sudden.
“Your stump?” Mikalah could hardly keep from giggling.
“Oh, yeah, I have the best stump in the whole wide world. Rain water gets in it, and it gets all musty smellin’ and I can stir it with a stick, hide treasures in it and even collect frogs there.”
“Now that sounds like somethin’ you’re gonna have a hard time doin’ without, Jack,” Mikalah affected a sympathetic expression of concern. “Maybe you’ll find a stump at your new place.”
“I hope so, but I’ve looked all over up there and ain’t seen one yet,” Jack flung a rock into the water, emphasizing his frustration over losing his stump.
“I’m sure you’ll find lots of other fun things to do – nice big house like that with ‘tricity an’ all.”
“Daddy says there’s not many people in Daisy’s got ‘tricity in their house. Did ya know that, Miss Micky?”
“Yep. Mama’s all ‘xcited cause we’re gonna have indoor plumbin’ and a telephone and everythin’,” Jack related the details as if there wasn’t much to it all in his opinion.
“Really? A telephone!” Mikalah was impressed. While larger cities in 1938 had electricity, the little town of Daisy lagged behind.
“Nobody else in Daisy’s got one a them in their own house,” Hank chimed in.
“You gonna let me come visit and see this new house o’ y’all’s, Jack?” Matty asked.
“Sure, come on over any time,” he grinned. Jack covered his eyes to shield them from the sun and peered off in the distance behind where Mikalah sat, “Who’s that a comin’?”
Mikalah looked back over her shoulder and nervously began straightening her skirt and hair.
“Why, it’s Hal Craig, Mikalah’s beau,” Hannah answered.
“You got yourself a beau, Miss Micky?” Jack asked.
Handsome brown-eyed, brown-haired, Hal Craig was a stocky fellow about the same height as Mikalah. All the girls in Daisy had a crush on him, but he only had eyes for Mikalah.
“Good afternoon, Micky!” he called as he strode determinedly across the rocks along the side of the creek.
“Afternoon, Hal!” she called back.
He came up behind her and put his hands on her shoulders, leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek. “Care if I join ya?”
Mikalah scooted aside on the rock making room for Hal to sit down next to her, “Please do.”
Hal seated himself, pulled off his socks and shoes, rolled up his pant legs and plunged his feet into the icy water, “Oh, now that sure feels good! What’s up with this hot weather?” he asked boisterously.
“Indian summer,” she answered. “What ya doin’ at the creek in the middle of the day, Hal? You’re usually at work ‘bout now.”
“Got too hot. I gave the workmen a long lunch and most of ‘em headed over to the Blowin’ Hole to cool off, but I spied you over here and figured I’d come see my girl.”
“Oh, let’s go to the Blowin’ Hole, Micky!” Hank suggested excitedly.
“We told Mama we’d be at the creek, not the Blowin’ Hole.”
“Come on, Micky, let’s go! It’s close by!” Hannah begged. Matty and Jack shook their heads in delighted agreement as they saw Mikalah’s determined expression begin to weaken.
“Why not? Let’s go!” Mikalah grabbed her shoes and stockings and stood up on the rock. The children were jumping stone to stone, crossing over to the other side of the creek before she could barely stand. Mikalah and Hal followed behind them. Hal grabbed her hand and helped steady her as she crossed. The group traveled along the creek and then back toward the mountain, into the woods a bit to the cave that everyone called the Blowin’ Hole. A group of men sat around the mouth of the cave. The chilly air coming from inside wafted out, cooling the weary laborers who had come to rest for a spell.
The children ran ahead into the cave, and Mikalah called out, “Now, no goin’ down deep in there and gettin’ lost! You know how ya can’t hear a thing back in there. When I say it’s time to go, you’ve gotta get out o’ there quick and come along home.”
“All right, we won’t go too far,” Hank called back to her as the children giggled and ran into the cave.
Mikalah and Hal walked hand in hand to the cave, passing the men outside who turned their heads, gawking at Mikalah. One of them, the son of a prominent moonshiner, whistled in her direction, and Hal glanced over his shoulder. A confident yet amiable look in Hal’s eye told Jeb Bailey that Mikalah was Hal’s girl. A hair-raising tremor shuddered along Mikalah’s spine. The moonshiners made her nervous. They somehow managed to rise above the law in the little town of Daisy . Their feudal rampages went unchecked by local county authorities, and many felt it a matter of time before innocent people were harmed in their vengeful shootings.
The pair entered the cave a few yards and crossed to a small alcove. Hal motioned for Mikalah to sit on a rock, and he scrunched in next to her.
The cool breeze wafted through Mikalah’s curls. The cave was nearly twenty degrees cooler than outside, and the chill of it caused her to rub her bare arms warming them in the friction of her hands.
“Boy, this sure feels good!” Hal kicked his feet out in front of him, wiggling his toes. Mikalah laid her shoes down on the ground beside Hal’s.
“Jeb Bailey gives me the willies,” Mikalah muttered.
“Ah, Jeb won’t hurt nobody unless they’re a Richards,” Hank soothed.
“I don’t know about that. All of ‘em make me nervous. They’re merciless,” Mikalah insisted.
“Ah, you’re worryin’ for nothin’. You know good ‘n well that the Richards and the Baileys have always kept their goin’s on between themselves. They don’t bother the rest of us. Heck, they’ve been feudin’ for years. Only time they stopped was when they got on that big radio show, shook hands and agreed to put it all behind ‘em.”
“Yeah, those silly radio people thought they could stop a feud like that. That lasted about a week!” Mikalah rolled her eyes in disgust. “Then they were back to shooting each other. They love killin’, Hank, and I say that kind of meanness isn’t selective.”
“You needn’t worry your pretty little self over such matters, Micky. If we stay out o’ their way, they’ll stay out o’ ours,” he reached over, put his arm around her shoulder and leaned in to kiss her. She returned his kiss that soon became more heated and demanding than she found comfortable. She put her hand to his chest and pushed him back, “Stop, Hal.”
He pulled her closer. “Oh, come on, Micky” he almost whined as she quickly stood up and retreated a few steps with her back to him.
Before she had a chance to say anything, Jack and Matty ran up to her. Matty chased Jack as he ran behind Mikalah’s skirt, dodging Matty who tried to grab hold of him.
“Save me Miss Micky!” Jack giggled.
“You’re gonna need savin’” Matty scolded.
“What’s up you two?” Mikalah grabbed Matty by the shoulders.
“Jack stow my pwetty wed wock I found at the cweek,”
“I did not steal it. I was just a lookin’ at it! I was gonna give it back,” he held a small red stone in the palm of his hand extending it to Matty who quickly snatched it.
“A likely stowey, Jack Mowton!” Matty stuck her tongue out at him.
“Now, now, Matty. If Jack says he was gonna give it back, then he was gonna give it back. You need to learn to share.” Mikalah’s hands went to her hips as she scolded her little sister.
“You’re always takin’ his side,” Matty rolled her eyes and stomped away.
“Where are Hannah and Hank? It’s time we got home,” Mikalah rounded up the children. She wanted to put some distance between herself and Hal. While she found him attractive and fun to be with, he made her uneasy when he got too close to her. Mikalah was no prude, but something in his kiss made her uncomfortable and nervous.
“Hank! Hannah! Come on, we’re leavin’!” Mikalah called, and the two came running.
As Mikalah led Jack and Matty out of the cave – a child holding each hand, Hal called after her, “We’re goin’ to the ball game tonight – right, Micky?”
Mikalah’s head hung down momentarily as she closed her eyes, “Oh, that’s right.” She tried to hide the frustration in her voice, “Sure, yes, pick me up at seven.” She exited the cave and accompanied the children home.
Jake spent the afternoon chopping down one of the old dead hickory trees in front of the Ford property. He was unloading the last few logs onto the woodpile as Mikalah and the children passed him. The children paid him no mind, but raced into the house. Mikalah followed them at a slower pace and studied Jake as he unloaded the logs. Something about him made butterflies flutter in her stomach. He nodded at her as she passed and wiped the perspiration from his brow with his shirt sleeve, “Have a nice swim, Miss Ford?”
“Yes, we did. Looks like you’ve been workin’ hard. I can smell Mama’s bread bakin’ from out here. Come on in and have a bite.”
“Thank you. I will in a few minutes – as soon as I finish unloading these last few logs.”
As Mikalah entered the house her mother pulled two loaves of homemade wheat bread from the oven. The Fords typically prepared a big breakfast and lunch and then ate only bread and milk for dinner each night.
The children gathered around their mother anxiously awaiting the bread, “Run along upstairs and change out of those wet clothes.”
Mikalah came up behind them, steering them along toward the stairs, and then turned toward her mother, “Hal asked me to go to the ball game with him tonight. Is that all right?”
“That’s fine dear,” her mother answered as she sliced the bread and placed it in a basket.
Mikalah turned and retrieved some butter and milk from the icebox and placed it on the table next to the basket of bread. Soon the children came tromping down the stairs and gathered around the table grabbing slices of bread and drinking glasses of sweet milk.
Jake tapped on the door frame as he watched the family gather around to eat.
“You don’t need to knock every time you enter, Mr. Elliot. Start makin’ yourself at home here,” Mrs. Ford wanted him to feel welcome. There was something about him she liked, something about him she felt she could trust. “Come on in, get washed up and have some bread and milk.”
“Thank you, Ma’am,” Jake entered, washed his hands, sat at an empty chair, poured himself a glass of milk and buttered a piece of bread. Mikalah found herself staring at him again until his eyes met hers, and he smiled nervously.
She quickly looked away, finished her bread and turned to her mother, “Mama, may I be excused? I need to get ready.”
Jake helped Mrs. Ford clear the dishes and then sat down in a chair to rest after his long work day.
Matty pranced up to him, “Lookie, Mr. Ewiot, lookie what I found at the cweek.” The child started pulling the creek rocks from her pocket and placing them in Jake’s outstretched palm.
“Huh,” she let out a frustrated sigh.
“What is it, Matty?” he asked.
“They ain’t near as pwetty and shiny as they was when I found ‘em. Ain’t nothin’ special ‘bout ‘em now, ‘tall.”
“I bet they’re shiny when they’re wet,” he patted the little girl’s head and then took her hand. “Let’s go over here to the sink and put some water on them. I bet that’ll make ‘em shine again.” He led the child to the kitchen, doused the rocks, and handed them back to her. “See there, all nice and shiny again. They’re beautiful, Matty.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Ewiot!” she exclaimed excitedly and ran to her mother, “Lookie at what I found at the cweek. Mr. Ewiot made ‘em shine again.”
“Those are lovely dear,” Laurana caressed the child’s chubby cheek.
About that time, there came a knock at the front door, and Mrs. Ford opened it to find Hal standing outside, “Why come on in, Hal. It’s good to see you!”
Hal nodded at Mikalah’s mother and entered the house, “Evenin’, Mrs. Ford.”
Jake rose to his feet, and Mrs. Ford introduced him, “Hal Craig, this is Jake Elliot. Mr. Elliot is boarding with us for a spell and helping us with some repairs. Mr. Craig helps supervise a group of farm hands at the Springfield place.” Jake extended his hand to shake Hal’s.
“Is Micky ready?” Hal asked as he released Jake’s handshake.
“She’ll be down in a minute.”
Jake was a bit surprised to hear Hal refer to Mikalah as “Micky.” The graceful and feminine young lady, who descended the stairs to join them, certainly didn’t look like a “Micky” to him. He felt a twinge of emotion as he watched her leave the house on Hal’s arm. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought the feeling was jealousy, but what right did he have to be jealous? And why would he be jealous of a girl he didn’t even know? He shook it off and walked to where Hannah and Hank were playing checkers.
“Ah checkers, how ‘bout I play the winner?” he suggested.
Hank’s bright eyes looked up at him, “Sure - and that will be me, of course.”
Hannah rolled her blue eyes, “Oh gimme a break, Hank. You are the bragginest boy I’ve ever known. I’ve beat you plenty o’ times.”
“When?” he protested.
“All right you two, just play the game without the fussin’,” Laurana scolded.
Jake sat down on the cot in the storage room where Mrs. Ford had cleared a place for him to sleep. He unbuttoned his shirt, removed his shoes and socks and reached down into his bag to pull out a book. He sat up on the cot with his head propped against the wall and began reading by the light of an oil lamp. Jake read for about an hour and then heard Mikalah and Hal talking outside the kitchen door.
“All right now, Hal, I’ve gotta go! Tomorrow’s Sunday, and I need my beauty sleep for church,” she giggled.
“I don’t think you could get any more beautiful,” he flattered.
Jake tried not to pay attention to their conversation, but their voices carried clearly into the storage room that was directly off the kitchen. He studied his book more intently, but found himself only gazing at the words without comprehending their meaning.
There was silence for a minute and then he heard a loud smack, “Hal Craig! That was entirely improper. I’m going inside,” anger seethed from Mikalah’s voice.
“Oh, come on Mikalah,” Hal whined.
“No, Hal. If you can’t keep your wanderin’ hands to yourself, then I can’t see you anymore,” she scolded sternly.
Jake’s eyebrows rose, and his eyes widened. Without thinking, he put his feet to the floor, stood up and walked toward the kitchen. As he reached the doorway, he saw the kitchen door fly open and Mikalah hurry to push it closed. Jake could see Hal’s hand in the door, that narrowly escaped before Mikalah slammed it, shut and bolted it. Jake leaned against the doorway, his muscular arms folded across the chest of his white t-shirt, his right bare foot crossed over his left leg and propped on his toes.
“Everything all right, Miss Ford?” his deep voice asked softly.
She jumped and turned toward him, “Oh! You scared me!”
“I’m sorry” he whispered.
She stared at him, almost forgetting what they were talking about, so distracted was she by him standing there with his tousled hair and concerned handsome expression. Her eyes moved to his well defined arms that were still folded across his muscular chest. “Uh – Everythin’s fine, Mr. Elliot. Hal can just be a bit of a tease,” she understated.
“Let me know if you ever need help. Men like that…”
“Oh, Hal’s a good fellow. He’s just a bit full o’ himself,” she wondered why she found herself defending Hal in front of this stranger.
“Uh huh,” Jake agreed. He couldn’t help but notice that her dress was slightly pulled down to expose her shoulder, and her hair was mussed.
She followed his gaze and quickly pulled her dress back onto her shoulder, “If you’ll excuse me, Mr. Elliot, I need to get to sleep. It’s late.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” he nodded and watched her as she ascended the stairs. Then he turned and went back to his cot. Mikalah glanced back over her shoulder to see him enter the room and shut the door behind him. How’s a body supposed to sleep with somethin’ that good lookin’ under the same roof? she thought to herself and then shook her head, What in the world are you thinkin’? Shake it off, Mikalah! She shut her bedroom door softly behind her.